16th Jul2019

Fantasia 2019: ‘The Wonderland’ Review

by Alain Elliott

Features the voices of: Mayu Matsuoka, Anne Watanabe, Kumiko Asô, Nao Tôyama, Keiji Fujiwara, Akiko Yajima, Masachika Ichimura | Written by Miho Maruo | Directed by Keiichi Hara

wonderland-poster

Outside of literally three or four movies, my viewing of Japanese animated movies is completely reliant on Studio Ghibili. That said, I adore the studio and every one of its movies, with Spirited Away being one of my all time favourites. So it was about time I checked out the output from other animation filmmakers in Japan.

As the title would suggest, The Wonderland does have a few influences from Alice in Wonderland. But to be honest, there’s nothing too obvious and it definitely does not feel like a retread of that story. The day before her birthday, a young girl, Akane, meets an alchemist named Hippocrates and his student Pipo. Along with an antique shop owner, Chii, who she is kind of friends with, Akane follows this mysterious pair on a mission to save the world. Although it might not be the world they were thinking of.

As somebody who has watched a lot of Studio Ghibili movies, The Wonderland does for the most part feel like a Studio Ghibili movie. But I guess they have the blueprint for what makes this kind of style great and therefore it will be copied to a degree. There are a few adult (ish) jokes here, although this is still very much a family friendly movie.

I’ve always loved animated films that make the most out of the fact that anything is possible. Of course if you have millions of pounds the same can be said now for any film but even on a much smaller budget, with animation you can create whatever world you have in your mind. The Wonderland does this magnificently. The colourful landscapes range from red sand covered areas to underwater worlds and everything in between. We also get talking cats, mystical creatures, people turning into flies and a a very strange world that it is all set. Akane and Chii both see this as an odd world that they have found themselves in but just kind of go along for the ride because, well, what else are they going to do?

The animation is beautiful, the character designs are really nice and the brightness of it all really stands out. For anyone that is only ever watched Disney and more western animated movies, this will feel like something you have never seen before. There’s a diverse range of musical choices but all are perfectly chosen and right for their specific scene.

The Wonderland is a story for children and adults alike, with both getting just as much enjoyment out of it. Although at just under two hours, some children might struggle, I found the time flew by nicely and I was never bored. It’s a lovely and soft coming of age story about a girl with little confidence being lightly pushed to be herself and a little more courageous. I felt like there was also an underlying story about treating the world and the people in it well, with the relevant climate change topic quietly included.

The Wonderland is an easy to watch movie that is perfect viewing on a lazy Sunday. It will have you smiling along at every minute. And there’s always time for those types of movies.

**** 4/5

The Wonderland screened on Sunday July 14th as part of the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival.

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